One of the most remarkable

One of the most remarkable aspects of the rebellion is the utter lack of military leadership demonstrated by the roughly half a dozen senior officers who defected from Gaddafi — as well as the almost complete absence of the 12,000 troops in the east who laid down their arms at the beginning of the uprising. The most visible rebel fighters were volunteers, citizen guerrillas who took their own weapons, many raided from police and army depots, into battle and had to learn to man heavy weaponry on the job. If anything, the military officers seem to have devoted themselves more to political maneuvering than prudently preparing for the defense of the uprising. "This is basically how all revolutions turn out — revolutions never belong to the people that fight them, they belong to the people who manage to exploit the situation towards their own interest — and Libya is no different in that regard," says McGregor.

General Abdel Fattah Younes, Gaddafi's former Interior Minister turned rebel army chief of staff, insists that the rebels' falling back from Ras Lanuf and Brega is a strategy. "War is a matter of advance and tactical withdrawal," he said. "What we are trying to do is lure [Gaddafi] into an area where we can even the fight." Others are skeptical. Says McGregor: "I am not sure how a headlong tactical retreat to a town [Benghazi] that's about to be surrounded, has no defenses, has lost its ammunition dump and is about to have its power cut off is going to save the revolution."

If or when Benghazi is under immediate threat, the West is going to face stark options. "This is going to be very embarrassing for the Western countries who have demanded Gaddafi step down or have said they are 100% behind the rebellion," says McGregor. "What do they do when the rebellion starts to be crushed — are you going to watch or are you going to intervene militarily? Those are the basic choices you are going to be left with if Gaddafi's forces reach Benghazi, and that will be a decisive battle and that will be a decisive time for the foreign policy of Western countries — they will have to make a rather quick decision." France, so far the only country to recognize the rebels' National Transition Council as Libya's legitimate government, will be particularly on the spot. "Does [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy take the political hit or send in the Special Forces?" asks McGregor. Or will everyone just watch as the most dramatic revolt in the Middle East's Arab awakening is brutally crushed?


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